Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on anxiety. Each of our experiences with anxiety is very different based upon who we are as a person and the circumstances that we find ourselves in. We are writing about the experience of anxiety from many different angles so you may not find every article as helpful to you as another one that better describes your experience. The good news is that the Bible isn’t a one-size-fits-all guide to life, but be confident that the answers found in the Bible can help you. God does understand what you are going through, and He will guide you.
In this article, Sherry Allchin shares some practical thoughts and steps she takes when working with a counselee stuck in the grip of fear. Whether you find yourself stuck or you find yourself walking with some else, you will see some profitable and helpful ways to move forward.
When someone comes shaking with fear, having a panic attack, or worried sick, how do you help? They have heard all the verses and pat answers, and are convinced this “Trust God” thing doesn’t work! They are paralyzed with fear and don’t know what to do anymore….“I’ve tried everything!”
You are the biblical counselor and you are supposed to help him find his way back to peace. Where do you start? How do you define fear, worry, and anxiety biblically? If these are the “put-offs” then what are the “put-ons”?
I start first by listening to her story. I want to know if she was an anxious child, if her mother was an anxious mother, or who else in her life might have modeled anxiety. I want to know her fear experiences and how they began. Is she a worry-wart? Does she have panic attacks (as culture calls them) or fear experiences (as biblical counselors prefer to call them)? What triggers her fear?
She has developed a pattern of dealing with her fears and I need to help her recognize her response patterns. Together we also need to look at what is going on in her heart. What is the bottom-line fear that she fears? What is the worst thing that could happen to her and why? What does she want that she fears she won’t have? When we have some answers to these questions, we can then begin to find a path out of her anxiety and to see how God is a trustworthy guide in the midst of her struggles.
I would help her to see that anxiety is the umbrella term. Php 4:6 is a command to be anxious for nothing! Anxiety encompasses both fear and worry. Fear looks backward. Joshua looked backward at Moses’ leadership and feared he could not be as good a leader as Moses. After all, he was a “nobody.” God assured him that as He was with Moses, He would be with him, and to not be afraid (Josh 1:5-9). Dragging the past into the present paralyzed David in Psalm 18, but crying out to God (:6) brought victory (:46-50). We are invited by God to cast our burdens, cares, worries on Him (Ps 55:22) because He cares about us (1Pet 5:7). When we try to carry those burdens alone, we become weighed down and paralyzed in the present, losing hope and the ability to accomplish God’s purposes. Jesus very clearly taught that we were not to be filled with anxiety about our life today or tomorrow, but that He will take care of His own (Mt 6:25-34).
So how do we help our counselees to put off fear and put on trusting God? They all know that perfect love casts out fear, but ask them how that happens and you get a deer staring into the headlights! I usually get some answers like, “Well God’s love is perfect and He will help me.” I then ask, “But how does that work and why hasn’t it worked so far for you?” Still, that blank stare! Next I ask, “What is the focus of my fear?” and they understand it is SELF – protecting myself from something bad that happened in the past that I don’t ever want to happen again, or that I’m worried will happen in my future (maybe, might) so I protect myself and wrap myself up in ME! If loving and protecting ME is the put-off, then what is the put-on? Loving and serving God and others! God’s perfect love helps me to do a U-turn in my focus and that casts out my fear so that I can function as God designed me to live (Mt 22:36-40)!
Let’s say I’m afraid of crossing a busy highway, afraid of big trucks and fast cars. I panic at crossings and would drive miles to avoid that. But what if one day my little girl runs out into that highway with a truck coming toward her! Will I love and protect myself and stay safe on the side of the road? Or will greater love for my child make me run into the highway and rescue her from that truck barreling toward her? You see, perfect love just cast out my fear. I loved her more than me, so I rescued her! When I love God more than I love me, I walk by faith even when it’s hard, or I can’t see clearly. I will trust! Perfect love casts out fear when we do a U-turn in the focus of our love!
As biblical counselors, we must give our people power tools. God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim 1:7). These three tools, when used together, will overcome anxiety. We receive 1) power through the Holy Spirit plugging God’s Word into our hearts and mind. Think of a power cord as the conduit from the power source to the appliance. We are the appliance needing power and that comes from God through the power cord of the Holy Spirit using God’s Word to convict and correct us. 2) Love allows us to do a U-turn in our focus to love and serve God and others more than protecting myself. 3) The third tool is self-control or sound mind. Think of this tool as a disciplined mind that is able to focus on the truth of God’s Word, to believe and trust God in all things, and to choose to act in love toward God and others. Working together, these three power tools cast out fear!